i miss the grad room, the place where i used to spend countless days and nights trying to finish up the seemingly unfinishable thesis. it was a long tedious process that would have been unbearable if not for the fantastic people who populated it. one of the things i missed too was the spontaneous but frequent music exchange sessions – that was how i got acquainted with the music of indonesian band sore, as recommended by janssen who was learning bahasa indonesia at that time.
i couldn’t believe i hadn’t heard of them earlier. as i soon found out, the six-piece band based in jakarta had already been making waves regionally: their debut album centralismo was voted by time magazine as one of the five asian albums worth buying in 2005; more recently, rolling stone indonesia voted their follow-up record, ports of lima, as the album of the year last year. my eagerness to check out their music, however, stemmed more from the curious plurality implied in their album titles and art, which seemed to hark back to a fictional colonial past through the perspective of a romanticized present.
in ports of lima, this is expressed with the deeply nostalgic sentiment of the record weaved effortlessly into a modern context and celebrated with flourishes of strings, flutes and other subtle intricacies. what strikes me repeatedly is the band’s awareness of their various musical roots, which are derived from both the charm of indonesian soundtracks of yore as well as the pop mastery reminiscent of great american albums like pet sounds. most impressively, though, the band retains its originality in creating a culturally relevant record that sounds perfectly at ease with its marriage of disparate influences.
the songs in the album reflect this confidence. album openers “bogor biru” and “senyum dari selatan” lay out sore’s favored idyllic sound surrounded by layers of harmonies that sigh collectively at full stretch. the songs that proceed from it explore a whole range of emotions and moods, from the sunshine-tinged pop of “layu” to the dreamy balladry of “merintih perih” and the surprisingly intimate “apatis ria”. by the end of repeated listens, i find myself less occupied with the band’s pastiche that so intrigued me at the start, and more immersed in the magical world they’ve crafted so beautifully in one album. it’s a work of fiction, no doubt, but one that’s rooted firmly in both the cultural and the personal, crucial elements that keep this band ticking as time stands still around them.
mp3: sore – bogor biru
mp3: sore – apatis ria
if you’re in singapore, do check the band out as they perform at the heeren on 30th and 31st may, 6pm. see you there!